Integrating the Personal and Professional:
Assistant Professor Will Wittig

The Nautilus, Summer 2002

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Will Wittig found the perfect fit when he joined the School of Architecture as assistant professor in September 2001.

"There's a wonderful overlap between my personal interests and the mission of the School," says Wittig, whose teaching at UDM and personal work both focus on urban redevelopment, design-build as it defines an architect's role, and the ecological responsibility of architects.

"These interests characterize why I'm at UDM," Wittig explains. "I think one of the biggest strengths this University and this School has is that we are truly involved in the community."

Wittig grew up in Kansas City and attended the University of Kansas, where he earned his Bachelor of Architecture degree in 1989. There, he also met his future wife, Timothea. After graduating, the two moved to New York with another couple they befriended in the architecture program. Though Wittig intended to go to graduate school with the hope of teaching at some point, he felt it was important first to experience work in his profession. He spent five years working at firms in New York.

Ready to explore the next stage of his career, Wittig came to Michigan in 1994 to attend the Cranbrook Academy of Art, where he earned his Master of Architecture degree. His friends followed a parallel path to Michigan and Cranbrook, and Wittig, Timothea and their friends bought a house together in Ferndale. After graduating, Wittig applied for and was awarded a fellowship to teach at the University of Michigan. He, his wife and the other couple also started a small design-build architecture firm, Crossings Architecture, Inc., out of their home. While building the new firm, Wittig taught at Michigan for three semesters, but soon found it daunting to balance the home business and the long commute to Ann Arbor. He decided to discontinue his teaching.

Shortly after this decision, in 2000, Wittig was approached by School of Architecture Dean Stephen Vogel to teach as an adjunct professor. Wittig had met Vogel earlier through a project Wittig's firm had designed in conjunction with the Detroit Collaborative Design Center. Vogel also knew of Wittig's interest in design build, and he wanted to incorporate that concept more fully into the School's curriculum.

In 2001, Wittig was hired as a full-time faculty member. Today, he teaches both a design-build course and "Energy and Architecture," which focuses on sustainability issues, specifically passive solar design. He hopes to broaden the course's range to include ecologically-friendly materials, water conservation and alternative energy sources, in addition to the general energy efficiency of buildings.

He also plans to incorporate his design-build expertise into more projects that allow students to work with community groups. He began this process with his first design-build studio. Students worked with Project Rowhouses Foundation to design and build a maternity house. The project was displayed last fall at the The Detroit Institute of Arts' "Artists Take on Detroit" program.

Teaching brings Wittig full-circle to his own experience as an architecture student. He still appreciates what he feels was a more complete education than he might have received through another discipline. He explains that even if a student didn't end up becoming an architect, he or she became a better thinker because architecture students are taught how to think, rather than what to think. (Many faculty and students at UDM would point out that this type of education is a distinctive point in all UDM's programs—and an important characteristic of a Jesuit and Mercy education.)

"Because it's project-based and there's such an emphasis on problem solving, architecture forces you to continually look for a better answer, because there's never a right answer. It's always a challenging environment," he adds.

Wittig believes this experience is what promoted his interest in teaching architecture.

"As a teacher, I'm primarily motivated by the individual development of my students. You could say that I love the process of educating an architect more than I do buildings per se. I see the building as the end product of that process."